ROWING up in Myanmar of the 1990s and 2000s, my only exposure to air travel was via bootleg DVDs.
Everything I knew about airplanes was based on movies like Air Force One, Up in the Air, Final Destination and Snakes on a Plane. Flying seemed to be more about explosions and reptiles than travelling from one destination to another.
I’d also been to Yangon Airport a few times to say goodbye to family and friends. Colleagues and cousins would disappear into the terminal, with me never going beyond the gate.
Needless to say, I was pretty excited when I heard that some reporters from this newspaper were invited on an FMI Air media trip to experience their new Yangon – Kawthaung route.
Our editor assigned two other reporters, but after much cajoling, I convinced her to send me along as well. Three reporters to cover a new flight route? Yes, it’s excessive. But – at 24 years of age – this was finally my chance to fly.
I always thought my first trip would be to an exotic destination. Kawthaung doesn’t really have the buzz of New York or the romance of Paris. But I was excited (and nervous) nonetheless.
March 29. Launch day. What may be a normal – or even tedious – trip for some, was for me anything but.
I’d done my research and knew I couldn’t bring liquids on board. You may mock my over-preparing but my colleagues forgot.
The airplane was a small one and I was assigned to a window seat with no one beside me. The other reporters were in the row across – and in typical Myanmar style, were photographing and videoing my every move.
Then, with my heart pounding, we took off.
Many readers will likely not remember their first flight and probably take the views out the window for granted. But for me, it was breathtaking.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw my city from the sky. Downtown, the waterways, the fields of Dala, and of course Shwedagon.
Then the ear pressure hit. Again, an experience many would be familiar with, but I’d never felt. Though it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d imagined.
One pleasant surprise was the airline food. Complaining about airline food is probably as universal as talking about the weather. But – maybe it was because of the clouds gliding past – I loved it.
A clichè from movies set on planes is that certain salacious things can go on in airplane bathrooms. But, what the hell? They’re so small! Very unrealistic, Hollywood.
The actual Kawthaung portion of the trip was underwhelming. Being a media junket, we only spent half an hour on the tarmac before flying back to Yangon. Once again – not quite the ideal vacation I expected my first flight to be.
But for the record, it was lovely tarmac.
Something unexpected happened on the return flight. I took my seat, started to relax, when a stewardess came over to me: “Sir, you are sitting beside the emergency exit. Are you able to undertake emergency duties?”
Am I ready for such responsibility? The whole plane depending on my wits and resolve in the face of catastrophe?
“Do you know the steps of opening the emergency door?” the stewardess continued.
But I played it cool, didn’t show my growing anxiety and as soon as she left – studied that airline safety instruction guide like my life depended on it.
I looked at that door for the whole rest of the flight. No time to enjoy the clouds. Just that damn door.
Fortunately, I wasn’t required to spring into action and save the flight, from whatever disaster may have hit (snakes or otherwise).
Maybe next time, which I hope will be soon.